Many people living in Hà Nội had a sleepless night last Friday as authorities announced the first COVID-19 case in the city.
Some could not sleep because of the fear that the fatal virus had finally hit their city, bringing the possible spread of the deadly virus, quarantines, continued school closures, limited meetings and gatherings and an end to business as usual.
Some other people, particularly netizens did not sleep that night because they spent time searching and sharing the patient’s social media profiles, publishing thousands of updates and comments criticising her, blaming her for bringing the virus to the city.
The patient, who was the 17th COVID-19 patient in Việt Nam, is a young woman who returned from a trip across three European countries – UK, France and Italy but when arriving in Hà Nôi on March 2, she reportedly failed to provide an accurate travel history.
She had a fever on March 2, which worsened on March 5 and she went for a medical check-up at a nearby hospital before she was transferred to the city's National Hospital for Tropical Diseases on Thursday afternoon.
She tested positive for COVID-19 and the result was released on Friday evening. She is now under quarantine at the hospital and those who had contact with her on the flight, at home, at the hospital and elsewhere are also under quarantine. Some have tested positive for the virus too.
It’s understandable and reasonable for people to criticise, blame or be angry with this patient for her irresponsibility towards the community.
Watch our video on the life of people in Trúc Bạch quarantined area
Việt Nam has been fighting hard against COVID-19 and all 16 prior patients had successfully recovered and it felt like this patient set us back.
Worse still, we have felt an increased threat to our health and our safety, a feeling many people share with me.
“As soon as I heard the news, I really got angry with this Patient 17, I even thought about scolding or beating her if I saw her,” said Nguyễn Khánh Anh from Tây Hồ District.
Some people went further on social networks and criticised the patient with foul and vulgar language.
A friend told me she was stunned to see the language used by netizens to describe the patient and criticise her irresponsibility.
“She deserves to be scolded but I don’t think such bad words should be used,” she said.
“We may hear vulgar language every day in many situations in our daily life. It’s annoying enough. It’s unacceptable and should not be accepted,” she said, adding that people could unintentionally use bad language in speech, but not when they typed.
I agree with my friends. Public criticism can help deter those who, like Patient 17, acted irresponsibly towards the community. We cannot be tolerant and gentle with such people. However, being stern doesn't mean accepting vulgar language.
Words can hurt.
Lawyer Đặng Văn Cường from the Hà Nôi Bar Association said according to the Law on Infected Disease Prevention and Control, those who contact people with infectious diseases must report their health situation and follow medical quarantines upon arrival in Việt Nam.
If not, they can face fines regulated in Government Decree 176/2013/NĐ-CP with fines from VNĐ1 million to VNĐ10 million (US$ 43- 430)
Under Article 240 of the revised Criminal Code 2025, those who commit acts that spread infectious diseases face fines of VNĐ50 million to VNĐ200 million or 1-5 years in jail.
Those whose actions lead to the announcement of a disease outbreak face 5-12 years in jail.
So, if there is enough evidence that the patient has committed a crime, Việt Nam has laws and regulations to punish her.
Meanwhile, according to Việt Nam’s Law on Cyber Security effective from January 2019, information that causes serious infringement of the honour, reputation/prestige or dignity of others is banned online.
“Pause before replying to things you disagree with, and don’t post or send anything that could hurt someone else, damage a reputation or threaten someone’s safety.” This is part of the Digital Civility Challenge that Microsoft highlighted this year, calling on people for safer, healthier and more respectful online interactions. Let’s think about joining. VNS